Thursday, April 14, 2011

Kayaking on Lake Manapouri

Each semester, my study abroad program (Brethren Colleges Abroad - BCA) pays for their students to go on some kind of adventure/cruise/trip/awesomeness.  I had been told about it from last semester’s crew and was really looking forward to it.  Within the first week of classes, we received an email from BCA with some good AND some bad news.  Unfortunately, I am only one of three BCA students at Otago this semester, making it impossible for them to book a cruise just for us.  Fortunately, this meant that BCA was instead paying for us to join a trip hosted by the Unipol (our Rec Centre).  After some back and forth, all three of us were signed up for the Sea-Kayaking trip to Lake Manapouri.  And after much anticipation, we finally hit the road - and water - this past weekend.

Friday was a travel day.  After finishing my last blog post, I frantically threw clothes and snacks into a backpack and ran over to the Unipol.  From there, we drove the four hours to Lake Manapouri, stopping for a dinner of takeaways.  (My first fish’n’chips - yum!)  We stayed overnight at a lodge site not 20 meters from the beach...

[Our little cabin, which housed all eight of us.  After a week of freezing rain, it was such a relief to cuddle up in my sleeping bag next to a nice, warm space heater... We prayed for good conditions over the weekend.]

We woke up Saturday morning to BEAUTIFUL weather!  We couldn’t believe our luck!  There were a few clouds in the sky, but they quickly melted away in the warm morning sun.  We made our way over to Fraser’s Beach, (where I did my cold morning dip several weeks ago), to meet our guide, Soph (as in, Sophie).  She outfitted us with wet suits, polypropylene tops, fleeces, paddle jackets, the works!  After a brief instructional safety talk and a not-so-brief attempt to jam all of our gear into the kayaks, we were in the water!

[What a PERFECT day!  The water was as smooth and clear as glass (we could often see all the way to the bottom) and the sun was beaming!  It didn’t take long for my shoulders to start aching, but I barely noticed it as I gaped at the scenery around me.]

[There’s me and my paddle partner, Gareth from Ohio/New York.  Team Yellow Submarine!  We got along great, spending most of our time reminiscing about home and talking about movies, books, etc.  I have some kayaking experience, but none in a sea-kayak.  Gareth controlled the direction with pedals connected to the rudder in the back.  I was in charge of navigation aka seeing the rocks before we hit them.  We made a pretty good team.]
(Photo by Lindsay D.)

[Welcome to Fiordland!  The clouds were quickly clearing out, but not before I caught this shot...]

[To the right, you’ll see a big, tall mountain that I can’t recall the name of, but it is not capped in snow - it’s actually sand deposits.  To the left is a smaller peak called The Monument.  Little did I know I would be scaling it later that day...]

After a few hours of paddling and checking out the views, we chose a nice sunny beach for a lunch stop.  We dragged our kayaks onto shore and tore through the food Unipol had packed for us.  The weather remained almost too perfect while we lounged in the sand and went for a quick dip in the lake.

[Our lunch stop]

[A nice shot of me in my kayaking get-up next to the Yellow Submarine]
(Photo by Lindsay D.)

Before we dozed off in the nice afternoon sun, we crammed back into our kayaks and made our way into Hope Arm, the part of the lake where we would be spending the night.  (This is when I realized that my camera was dead - as were my back-up batteries! I was able to catch a fwe more shots, but this explains why I have so many borrowed pictures...)  Soph stopped us here and there to give us quick history/environmental areas about different parts of the lake.  But before we got too far along, Soph decided to experiment with a new team building activity.  While holding onto each other and our kayaks, we all managed to stand up in our boats without getting the least bit wet!

[Successful team building exercise.  I’m the second one in from the left.]
(Photo compliments of Lindsay D.)

Before it got too late, we pulled onto another sunny beach and made camp.  I paired up with Lindsay, another BCAer I had met in San Francisco on the way over to NZ.  This was Lindsay’s very first camping/lake kayaking experience, so I helped her set up the tent and roll out her sleeping bag.  She kept a pretty good attitude, despite the tough hike that was about to come next...

Before settling down for dinner, Soph led us over to the Monument, shown in a picture above.  We bushwhacked through the woods, up steep forested slopes, and then were faced with vertical rock faces that, yes, we were expected to climb in order to see the magnificent views.

[After pulling myself up some of the rocks, I thought we were there.  The view was already fantastic!  It didn’t take me long to realize that everyone else had moved on above me...]
(Photo by Jack W.)

[Part of the track was SO steep and made up of too big rocks that they installed a chain (on left) in order for us to go any further.  As in my shoulders weren’t already burning...]
(Photo by Jack W.)

[Lake Manapouri from the top!]

[More of Fiordland and Lake Manapouri]

[Me perched on a rock, just taking in the view...]
(Photo by Steph S.)

We VERY slowly made our way back down as the sun set.  We got back in time to grab our headlamps and begin our fantastic dinner of ravioli, sauce and salad.  Once we were full and cleaned up, we made our campfire and swapped stories.  Soph taught us my new favorite Kiwi trick - the TimTam Slam.  TimTams are these YUMMY cookies sold over here.  They’re layers of chocolate wafers, and then more chocolate, and come in many flavors.  You make yourself a big cup of hot chocolate, bite off opposing corners of the TimTam, stick it into your drink, and then suck up through it like a straw.  Once the hot chocolate hits your tongue, quickly shove the TimTam into your mouth.  Gooey, chocolatey heaven!  After a couple of those, I made my way to bed early so that I would be well-rested for another full day of kayaking on Sunday...

We woke to slightly cloudier skies than the previous day, but it was still looking nice.  We quickly packed up camp and got back on the water.  We paddled deeper into Hope Arm and we took our time checking out the beaches at the end. Then all of a sudden the wind picked up and our kayaks started violently rocking.  The skies stayed pretty clear, but soon we all had our rain jackets on and we struggled to get turned around in the water.  As the front person, I began to swallow a LOT of lake water, (no worries - we were encouraged to drink it!)  We attempted to make it out of the bay we were in, but it took us 45 minutes to do what we had done previously in ten.  It wasn’t long before we weren’t moving at all, despite our frantic paddling attempts.  Instead, we ‘rafted up’ by pulling our kayaks alongside one another (to avoid capsizing) and rode the waves back to beaches we had been at nearly an hour before.  We pulled everything onto dry land and ran to an empty hut nearby in the woods.  Soph used her satellite phone to ring for help, and thankfully her boss was able to send us a rescue boat.  When it arrived, we had to kayak out to it, then stand in our boats and climb onto their deck.  The crazy wind and waves were NOT helpful - but thankfully we had practiced standing!

[The waves look like nothing in this picture!  But I promise you, down in a two-person kayak, they were pretty scary.]

The boat took us safely back to shore, where our Unipol escort came to meet us.  We packed everything way, put some warm, dry clothes on, and left for Dunedin!

[A picture of the crew.  Right to left: Julia (Germany), Colleen (CA), me, Lindsay (VA), Jack (TX - goes to Juniata, too!), Soph (NZ), Gareth (OH), Steph (NY), and Tim (Denmark)]
(Photo compliments of Steph S.)

We got back a little early thanks to the unexpected wind.  It was such an AMAZING trip - the whole way home I was smiling and wiggling in my seat.  I could not believe I just went sea (er, lake) - kayaking!  It had been such a big adventure - a much bigger adventure than some of my other trips.  When we were attempting to paddle out of the bay the first time, I was a little scared, but not upset.  I knew Soph would figure it out, but I was also too distracted by it all to actually be worried about the situation.  While another nice day like Saturday would have been cool, the craziness of Sunday added a completely different element to the trip.  A very wild, enjoyable element.  

The only bad thing about the trip were the sandflies.  They were EVERYWHERE.  I came back absolutely covered in bites - I had 26 on my hands alone!  I even had to visit the pharmacy on Monday because the itching kept me up all of Sunday night.  But they were just a part of the environment that we had to deal with.  I wouldn’t trade the trip for anything.

[The sunset as we drove back to Dunedin.  The perfect setting for the end of a perfect trip.  We even all sang along to Coldplay as we rolled into town. (I told them the music would help my carsickness :) )  Couldn’t have asked for anything better...]
(Photo by Jack W.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Long Weekend of Loves: Animals, Gardening and Cooking

Last Thursday through Monday were some of the happiest, relaxing days I’ve had since I arrived in Dunedin.  Most of the time I’m feeling pressured to go out and do something new and exciting (which I usually end up enjoying despite being a little hesitant at first), but last weekend I decided to hang around in Dunedin, and I finally got to do some things that have been on my domestic list since the beginning...

Thursday morning after my 8 am class, a fellow Pennsylvanian I had met my second weekend here caught up to me and asked if I wanted to accompany her to the local animal shelter.  Yes!!  She had told me about this place when I initially met her, but it’s a bit of a walk and I haven’t found the time to make the trek since.  We grabbed a third friend and walked briskly up the hills of Dunedin to go meet the animals.

First, I got to take the four-month-old puppies for a run while one of the keepers cleaned their pens:

[This is Temperance, the bigger of the two puppies.  She was pretty feisty - she even put a hole in the bag I brought with me.  I forgot how sharp those puppy teeth can be...]

[And this was the timid Reebok.  He was sooo skinny and skittish.  Temperance wouldn’t leave him alone, so to escape he would jump up on the bench and take turns sitting in our laps.  He’d just flop down and look at us with those impossible-to-resist puppy eyes.  So sweet!]

Next, I volunteered to walk one of the older dogs.  They had so many!  There were cages upon cages full of howling and yapping dogs.  Of course I was given one of the more energetic dogs, Smokey.  She bounced several feet in the air while we unlocked her cage, and then she dragged me up and down the hills for the next twenty minutes.  (Her strength definitely made up for her smaller size.)  I kept her for a while after that so we could actually take a walk at my pace.  She was very sweet and was super excited to be out and about.

[My new friend Smokey!  As the keeper described her: ‘a sweet wee gal full o’ beans.’]

I was cutting it pretty close for making it back to my one o’clock class, but I couldn’t bear to leave without saying hi to the kitties!  I gave Smokey a big bowl of water and then went up to the  cat houses, where there were separate rooms for the kittens, the females and then the males.  Of course I started with the babies....

[This little guy came in jumped up in my lap as soon as I crouched on the floor.  There were so many kitties!  About half of them were locked up in cages, taking turns with the ones that were running around.  They ranged from very very tiny to just about mature.  Some were a little scared, but most were happy to chase a few toys and bat at some string.]

I said quick hellos to the big kitties and then jogged home in time for a quick shower before class.  I loveeee animals, but there was no way I could go to class smelling the way that I was... Can’t wait to go back!

Then, on Saturday, I signed up for an urban gardening workshop through the university’s environmental club and the Otago Polytechnic Institute’s LivingCampus initiative.  I helped clear part of planter right next to a building at the Polytechnic Institute, and then got to take a tour of the beautiful gardens that were already established on the Institute’s campus and their compost centers/worm bins.

[An example of one urban garden.  They were everywhere!  Big gardens, small ones... sometimes just little patches of parsley or rosemary, ready for picking.  These gardens are completely open to the public, and there are just a few signs explaining the project and asking that everyone harvest sustainably.  There were lots of dark greens, beans, onions, carrots, cabbage, herbs, etc.  The gardens are also used to supply the Institute’s student café.  Very cool!]

[To the left, our new gardening space.  To the right, all of the stuff we had to rip out of it.]

After our tour and our little harvests, we returned to the spot we had cleared and started a workshop with one of the Institute’s agriculture professors, Michelle.  We talked for a bit about urban agriculture initiatives, and then began working on our ‘no-dig’ or ‘lasagna’ garden.  We made raised beds by layering compost, cardboard, mulch, and hay until we had a nice fluffy place to put our seedlings.

[Micelle directing us as we made the raised beds]

[Lettuce seedling nestled nicely in the compost and hay]

[Another example of a LivingCampus garden.  This one was made entirely out of terraced raised beds.]

After a couple hours of work, I said my thanks you’s and went back home, both very dirty and very happy!  I’d love to see Juniata’s garden and farm expand into a similar project.  Maybe someday...

After a nice relaxing Sunday during which I interchanged napping and reading, Monday came again.  That evening was my last European cooking class.  This time, we got to make Portuguese food.  Since it appeared that everyone was going to do their own thing like last time, I stepped up and took control of the main dish.  This involved dicing and frying onions... Zuzana laughed every time I sniffled or wiped my eyes on my sleeve.  We ended up with a VERY yummy meal.  I want to say it was my favorite yet, but I feel like I say that every time!

[Caldo Verde (Portuguese Kale Soup): Zuzana had trouble finding kale, so we went with cabbage instead.  It was a very light, thin soup, thickened a little bit with onions and flavored with red pepper and parsley.  I think I would have enjoyed the kale a bit more, but I was perfect for such a cold, rainy day.]

[Ervilhas com Ovos Escalfados (Green Peas with Poached Eggs): I didn’t really know what to expect with this one, but it turned out sooo well!  We cooked some onion and garlic, tossed in some water, peas, and canned tomatoes, and then as it simmered, we put in whole eggs to poach.  Served over rice cooked with more onions, and it was a very tasty, hearty meal.]

[Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese Custard Tarts):  And of course, my favorite, dessert!  These were very simple tarts, made with nutmeg and cinnamon-dusted custard inside a puff pastry shell.  They were nice and warm and sooo yummy.]


I was sad to see my cooking class end, but I was glad to take so much away from it.  She taught us some valuable skills, introduced us to new foods, but most importantly for me, she improved my confidence in the kitchen.  I don’t always do exactly what the recipe says and I’ve gotten a little lazy with my measurements.  She taught me that was completely okay, and that I should cook by tasting, not by following a recipe word-for-word.

It was nice to do some comfort-based activities for a weekend.  I love my adventures, but as time goes on and I become increasingly homesick, it’s soothing to know that I have some of the same loves here that I do at home: furry animals, gardens and cooking.  I will be so happy to see my pets again and play in gardens and cook in kitchens back home, but for now I have some more distractions.

Well, off I go on my next weekend excursion: Lake Manapouri, again!  This time my study abroad program paid for me to go on a weekend-long kayaking/camping trip.  If I can lift my arms on Monday, I’ll tell you all about it!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Learning to Drive Backwards: Roadtrip to the Moeraki Boulders and the Otago Peninsula

Finally - I have the pictures!  And I will use them to take you through my trip to the Moeraki Boulders and the Otago Peninsula.

After several weekends outside of Dunedin, some of my flatmates and I definitely wanted some time around home.  Instead of the usual weekend-long trip, we rented a car and went for a day trip to some sights nearby...

[First stop - the Moeraki Boulders.  They were located about an hour-drive north along the coast.  These boulders were encased in mudstone a long, long time ago and then were re-exposed by wave erosion action.]

[I had seen pictures while Googling close sight-seeing stops, but I had no idea just how big they were until we were standing right next to them.  They were perfectly smooth and most of them weren’t as cracked as the one my friend Julia is poking at above.]

[After some struggles, we finally got onto the boulders.  We forgot to look up when high tide was... my sweater and jeans were thoroughly soaked by the time I made it to my perch. (Photo by Julia S.)]

[A friendly co-tourist offered to take a picture of the four travelers.  Left to right: Beverley (Elizabeth’s friend from home), Elizabeth, Julia, and me (Photo compliments of Julia S.)]

[On our way back to Dunedin, we made a stop at a place we had seen earlier on the map - Shag Point.  We hoped to just jump out of the car and take a picture with a signpost, but instead were welcomed by the view.  A little bit better than an immature photo with a sign...]

[Another shot at Shag Point.  There were some big, lazy sea lions lounging among the drift wood - just look for the brown blobs.]

After a quick stop at home for dry clothes, we made our way out to the Peninsula.  This is when I got to take the wheel.  I ignored my trembling nerves and hit the gas - we had so many things to see!

[First Peninsula Stop - The Larnach Castle.  One of the only mansions within the Dunedin limits, this castle was built in the 18th Century by William Larnach, a famous banker and politician.  Some claim that the castle is haunted - Larnach committed suicide after financial ruin AND finding out that his lover was having an affair with his favorite son.  But it was hard to believe it on such a beautiful, sunny day.]

[View of the Peninsula from the Larnach grounds]

[To save time (and money), we only toured the gardens surrounding the castle.  They were well-manicured plots full of pretty and Dr.-Seuss-esque flowers.]

[Even Alice was there!]

[Another garden...]

[... And more flowers.  The red and white combo definitely stuck with the Wonderland theme.]

[Inside the ballroom, a present Larnach built for his daughter’s 21st birthday.  Now it houses the castle’s tourist cafe.]

[What we believed to be part of the Lost Rock Garden.  I can’t remember the history exactly, but some famous gentleman came to the castle, built the garden, and then it promptly became overgrown with weeds and trees.  It had to be fished out of the vegetation... But we still weren’t exactly sure where it was.]

[Next, we drove alllll the way out to the end of the Peninsula to Taiaroa Head.  We watched the waves crash along the shore for a bit, goggled at the seals laying on the rocks, and paid a quick visit to the Royal Albatross Center.]

[Though we didn’t see any albatross while visiting the Head, there were lots of other seabirds around, like this White-Faced Heron.]

[Pilot Beach, also at Taiaroa Head.  Little did I know that later in the evening this is where I would see my first (and only!) NZ penguin!]

[Back in the car!  I drove all over the Peninsula until it got dark - then I let my more experienced friend Julia take over.  The Peninsula was probably not the best place to to learn how to drive ‘backwards.’  The road going out to the end of the Peninsula, Portobello Rd, is RIGHT along the coast, maybe a foot from the water, and curves close around the edges.  Rarely was I able to hold the steering wheel straight.  But it was nothing compared the next road we took - Highcliff.  This road went up the middle of the Peninsula, and the climb combined with the tight turns made us feel like we were driving straight into the sky.  And did I mention - these roads were also the narrowest I have EVER been on.  Thanks to that, I felt like I was slamming the breaks before every big curve, just in case someone was coming the other way.  Guess I had to learn somehow... Every time we got back into the car felt better than the last.]

[Since it was still too early for dinner, we went to the other side of the Peninsula to track down some 250-m high cliffs we had seen advertised on the map.  We parked our car and hiked straight through some sheep fields to find the Chasm (above and below) and then Lover’s Leap (coming up).  The pictures do not do these places justice.  Not only were they HUGE and beautiful, but you could walk right up to the edge!  Sure, there were fences to keep the sheep back, but us bi-peds were allowed to go as close as our minds/hearts could bear.]

[Another shot of the Chasm]

[A ten-minute walk away was Lover’s Leap, an equally outstanding view.]

[Another part of Lover’s Leap, or maybe just some cool scenery nearby (hard to tell where the ‘location’ ends - no signs or explanations).  Very pretty with the water gushing up the middle.  Again, the picture doesn’t help much with scale, but these views were very intimidating.]

[Finally - supper time!  We stopped by the 1908 Café in Portobello, pretty much the biggest town on the Peninsula - and town is stretching it.  They had a wonderful menu, making it very hard to chose.  Well, actually, not for that long.  I had yet to try my first lamb in New Zealand, so I went for the Lamb Shank in the Orange and Maple Syrup Sauce.  It was accompanied by salad and mashed potatoes.]

[And then... we got lost.  It wasn’t completely our fault.  A very thick fog settled over the Peninsula as went to the café and didn’t lift before we went back out.  The roads were also very small and not very well marked.  Eventually we found our way to Sandfly Bay, a place reputed for its penguin and sea lion populations.  We weren’t lucky enough to spot any feathery/furry friends, but the sight was still pretty as night rolled in.]

[Attempting to hold hands with a penguin, despite their ominous absence.  We had asked our hostess at the café for some penguin advice, and she directed us back to Pilot Beach after-dark.  We got there in time to hike down to the beach and join the other tourists wearing headlamps and hanging on the fence, staring as hard as they could into the darkness.  We eventually began to hear the Little Blue Penguins chirping/singing as they made their way onto shore, but it was too dark to see anything.  Suddenly, a man turned around and put his spotlight directly on a tiny, waddling penguin looking very lost as it scuttled off as quickly as it could.  Maybe 10 inches tall, dark blue-grey feathers... my FIRST PENGUIN!!!  I didn’t have time (or light) to get out my camera, but this sighting counted.  I definitely recommend Googling ‘little blue penguins’ asap.]

After waiting around for the other penguins to show themselves (they didn’t), we jumped back in the car one last time and drove home.  We were pretty worn out after such a full day.

[Our car the next morning before taking her back.  Dubbed Sasha, she was a good little Ford Focus that didn’t complain (too much) about the back-gravel-roads.]

The freedom of having my own car was hard to give up again, but it came at an excellent price for a day so full of adventures.  I think they day may have been a little full for some girls looking to have a relaxing weekend, but I’m glad I got to cross so many things off of my list.  I also (mostly) got over my fear of driving ‘backwards,’ very important as our Easter Break road-trip is quickly approaching.  The next few weeks will be full of research, paper-writing, and a couple more trips here and there.  This past weekend was simple and chill - I did some volunteering around Dunedin.  Check back soon for pictures of puppies and compost :)